Dietician offers advice during National Nutrition Month


March is National Nutrition Month and it’s the perfect time to focus on starting and sustaining good eating habits, said Alexandria Gray, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”

“It is essential to plan your meals in a way that will work for you and your schedule,” said Gray, who is also a registered dietician. “That will be the first step in successfully starting and maintaining a new meal plan.”

National Nutrition Month is the annual nutrition education and information campaign of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

“With obesity rates being at high levels, not only for adults but children, it is very important that we start these initiatives in the home setting first,” Gray said. “This is where most food choices are initiated.”

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans recommends increasing overall fruit and vegetable consumption.

“This step alone will increase vitamin and mineral intake as well as fiber intake which most Americans are lacking,” Gray said. “Other recommendations include increased intake of whole grain and having fish at least twice a week.”

Taking small steps can help lead to healthy eating every day, she said.

“By putting these recommendations into action, you are placed on the right track for improving your nutritional status,” Gray said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid used to be the guide for servings for each food group. Now, My Plate is used to distinguish appropriate portion sizes, she said.

“This format is a great way for individuals to see how their plate should look when preparing to eat a meal,” Gray said. “Think about it. The meat/chicken/pork/fish is normally the focal point of the meal. My Plate shows us that every food group has a role in a balanced meal plan.”

In My Plate, the protein is one-fourth of the plate with fruits, vegetables and grains making up the other three fourths, with a serving of dairy on the side.

“Following the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and using My Plate as a guide can be just what is needed to help your family make the changes necessary for an improved quality of life,” Gray said. “Just by making any of these changes, you could possibly see weight loss and reduced risk of certain diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.”

For more information about eating healthier, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.